As I walked through the hot crowded streets of Hong Kong this morning I relaxed myself into the throng of activity around me. As I did so I became more aware of my environment, I was out of my head and into my body-mind. The fragrances that permeated the streets, the throb of traffic as buses and cars passed within a few feet of the path on which I was walking. I noticed my fingers were tingling as my circulation relaxed and increased blood flow in my hands. My feet made contact with the ground and I felt my way along the undulating and uneven pathway. The wider environment of Hong Kong rose from the pavements into my being. I felt lighter and more receptive to the experience of walking in an unfamiliar place.
One of the central streams in Gestalt is the development of awareness. Some practitioners argue that it is the primary purpose of Gestalt. In the early stages of a practitioner’s introduction to Gestalt as a philosophy and methodology, the main focus is on awareness of self and as this increases so attention is widened so we become more aware of other people.
This has led to a number of exercises and practices to encourage practitioners to become more familiar with their personal internal worlds. Both within themselves and how their experience alters when they are in groups or when they are coaching others.
Awareness becomes the way in which we encounter and make contact with ourselves, other people, and the groups with which we live and work. We may be unaware of when we lose contact with ourselves and the wider world around us. We do not notice when we inadvertently stop listening to ourselves and other people. We might be thinking of something else and lose what is happening to us in the moment. Our attention is not flawless and we cannot stay in the here and now all of the time, however, it might be useful to be aware of when we are slipping out of time and how we are with that process. If we think we are aware we might not be. We might just be thinking about being aware.
Gestalt can broaden our understanding of what might be happening to us and others, it can open up our internal world to inquiry rather than personal judgements and criticism. Our internal world comprises our feelings, emotions, thoughts, our imagination and our dreams, including the ways in which we make sense of our relationships and ourselves when we are with other people. How we relate to others and ourselves becomes a primary objective in the early days of becoming used to working with gestalt.
The main work at this level is to sensitise practitioners to the processes of sense making that we often take for granted, our assumptions, our way of making decisions and how we influence our choices. One way of increasing our sensitivity is to be part of an on-going group where everyone can challenge each other in a supportive and safe dialogical environment. The way in which we verbalise and describe our experiences can be listened to in a deep way and then clarified and challenged as we begin to realise that what we thought we said was not what most people heard.
This process requires considerable practice and is the beginning of developing our awareness to our inner world. This is the environment through which we experience and make sense of our personal and professional lives. As we become more conscious of ourselves and of our ego led lives, we begin to realise how we construe other people. The labels, categories and assumptions we make about others can become a reflective meditation. We learn that other people exist inside our heads according to our assumptions and biases. Ironically we learn that we exist inside the minds of others and are subjected to their premises and judgements. In between ourselves and other people the experiences we both create become our shared realities.
When we are in groups the increase in the numbers of people produces a complex and often hidden sea of information in which our imagination, biases and assumptions can run riot leading to behaviours and responses we may want to alter. Curiously most people handle this sea by constructing defences both internally and externally, which they think will hold back the currents that flow within themselves. How we block information and how we ignore what is happening to others and us becomes an important inquiry in our growth and development journey.
Gestalt encourages practitioners to swim in their internal seas and become more familiar with the dynamics between themselves and other people. This fine-tunes the skills we use as consultants, facilitators and coaches, so they can become more aware of the fuller environments in which they work.
Gestalt provides a philosophy and methodology that encourages practitioners to see themselves and others as whole human beings. Not just as thinkers or feelers, but also as people who have a wider range of thoughts and emotions than we normally recognise or imagine.
As we become more aware of ourselves, others, the groups we are part of and the society in which we live and work, we can revise how we make choices and decisions. We may well alter our behaviours, how we treat other people and how we treat ourselves.
The nature of awareness is unstable because as we become more aware so we change and alter, and as we do so our relationships subtly change. The fixed world that we try to hang onto becomes even more simple and complex, more uncertain and certain, more ambiguous and exciting. This process is not without resistance and sometimes grief. And yet as we allow our assumptions to change and as we replace them with compassion, we release ourselves into a wider world where everything requires us to live with our eyes, ears and our senses wide open to the subtle changes in our own world and the worlds of the people with whom we co-habit in our society.
We are currently in a world that is apparently increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, increasing our awareness of the way we assume the world to be will begin to prepare us for living and working in the unknown unknowns that are beginning to emerge in the world around us.
In order to walk with others in their journey through life and their professional practice we need to know who we are and how we construe our own world. Living life as inquiry and beginning to see and experience life as different in each moment is a positive effect of becoming more aware.
Our sense of satisfaction and self knowledge comes from being challenged and then realising that you can alter yourself to be more effective and then finding out how gifted you are. Often we feel stuck and the process of developing awareness can help to unstick us enabling us to move on in our professional practice in a more joyful way.
We often think that becoming like someone else will provide us with satisfaction and fun. When in reality being more of our authentic self will bring benefits that we have not considered or even realised. Seizing the moment and living the day as fully as we can. In order to walk with others in their journey through life and their professional practice we need to know who we are and how we construe our own world. Living life as inquiry and beginning to see and experience life as different in each moment is a positive effect of becoming more aware. We can then see that we make sense of our own lives and increasing our awareness provides us with the deeper understanding of how we can make different choices within the space between sense making and action.